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Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011

U.N. group wants to learn from 3/11 response


By MAYA KANEKO
Kyodo

A U.N. body that coordinates international offers of help after major natural disasters has called for closer cooperation with Japan, hoping to learn from the response to the March 11 catastrophe and enhance its knowledge and expertise.

Rashid Khalikov, head of the Geneva branch of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said in an interview that the OCHA intends to use its office in Kobe to expand its relations with Japan, in an effort to improve disaster preparedness worldwide. Kobe was itself devastated by the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, he noted.

The Kobe office will study how "we can benefit from the national experience and expertise that Japan has gathered over many years through responding to natural disasters and building resilient local communities," said Khalikov, who is responsible for overseeing emergency responses and donor relations at the OCHA.

The Kobe office will also make greater efforts to pass on the expertise and knowledge the U.N. has accumulating while responding to humanitarian crises to a wider audience, including government officials, parliamentarians, citizens, academics and the mass media, said Khalikov.

Shortly after the March earthquake and tsunami, the OCHA sent a team to help the government coordinate offers of assistance from the international community. Members of the U.N. disaster assessment and coordination team arrived in Japan on March 13, and worked with local authorities to designate areas for overseas search and rescue teams to operate in, said Khalikov.

He praised the government for being "open and flexible about receiving international assistance" and supportive of the OCHA team. He described the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake as "very chaotic," but no different from any other major natural disaster the U.N. has responded to.

According to the Foreign Ministry, more than 160 countries and regions and 40 international organizations offered Japan assistance after March 11, and 24 nations and regions dispatched relief teams and medical workers.

Khalikov said the OCHA offered the government "whatever expertise we have" in dealing with previous global emergencies and added the U.N. group hopes to use Japan's response to the March calamity to develop its strategy and knowledge.

He also welcomed the government's intention to host the 2015 World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Japan, saying it is "important to invest in disaster risk reduction to make everybody prepared."

"The fact that Japan is taking the lead in (disaster preparedness) should be supported and appreciated by the international community," Khalikov said.



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